About FEMA
Project Impact


Response and Recovery

Table of Contents
Basic Plan
Emergency Support Function Annexes
Recovery Function
Support Annexes
Incident Annexes
Figure Directory

Basic Plan

  1. Policies

    1. Authorities

      1. Under the Stafford Act, a Governor may request the President to declare a major disaster or an emergency if an event is beyond the combined response capabilities of the State and affected local governments.  Based upon the findings of a joint Federal-State-local Preliminary Damage Assessment (PDA) indicating the damages are of sufficient severity and magnitude to warrant assistance under the Act, the President may grant a major disaster or emergency declaration.  (Note: In a particularly fast-moving or clearly devastating disaster, the PDA process may be deferred until after the declaration.)

      2. If an emergency involves an area or facility for which the Federal Government exercises exclusive or primary responsibility and authority, the President may unilaterally direct the provision of emergency assistance under the Stafford Act.  The Governor of the affected State will be consulted if possible.

      3. No direct Federal assistance is authorized prior to a Presidential declaration. However, FEMA can use limited pre-declaration authorities to move Initial Response Resources (critical goods typically needed in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, e.g., food, water, emergency generators) and emergency teams closer to potentially affected areas.  FEMA also can activate essential command and control structures to lessen or avert the effects of a disaster and to improve the timeliness of disaster operations.  Additionally, when an incident poses a threat to life and property that cannot be effectively dealt with by the State or local governments, FEMA may request the Department of Defense (DOD) to utilize its resources prior to a declaration to perform any emergency work “essential for the preservation of life and property” under the Stafford Act.

      4. Following a declaration, the President may direct any Federal agency to use its authorities and resources in support of State and local assistance efforts to the extent that provision of the support does not conflict with other agency emergency missions.  This authority has been further delegated to the FEMA Director; the FEMA Associate Director, Response and Recovery; the FEMA Regional Director; and the Federal Coordinating Officer (FCO).

      5. The FEMA Director, on behalf of the President, appoints an FCO, who is responsible for coordinating the timely delivery of Federal disaster assistance to the affected State, local governments, and disaster victims.  In many cases, the FCO also serves as the Disaster Recovery Manager (DRM) to administer the financial aspects of assistance authorized under the Stafford Act.  The FCO works closely with the State Coordinating Officer (SCO), appointed by the Governor to oversee disaster operations for the State, and the Governor’s Authorized Representative (GAR), empowered by the Governor to execute all necessary documents for disaster assistance on behalf of the State.

      6. The State must commit to pay a share of the cost to receive certain types of Federal assistance under the Stafford Act.  In extraordinary cases, the President may choose to adjust the cost share or waive it for a specified time period.  The Presidential declaration notes any cost-share waiver, and a FEMA-State Agreement is signed further stipulating the division of costs among Federal, State, and local governments and other conditions for receiving assistance.

      7. While performing a function under the authority of the Stafford Act, a Federal agency or designated employee of a Federal agency is not liable for any claim based upon the exercise or performance of or the failure to exercise or perform that function.

      8. In addition to a Presidential disaster declaration, several Federal agencies have independent authorities to declare disasters.  For example, the Secretary of Agriculture may declare a disaster in certain situations in which a county has sustained production losses of 30 percent or greater in a single major enterprise, authorizing emergency loans for physical damages and crop losses.  The Secretary of Commerce may make a determination of a commercial fishery failure or fishery resource disaster.  The Administrator of the Small Business Administration may make a disaster declaration based on physical damage to buildings, machinery, equipment, inventory, homes, and other property as well as economic injury.

      9. Response by agencies to lifesaving and life-protecting requirements under the FRP has precedence over other Federal response activities, except where national security implications are determined to be of a higher priority.  If a disaster or emergency affects the national security of the United States, appropriate national security authorities, plans, and procedures will be used.

    2. Resource Coordination and Management

      1. To the maximum extent possible, internal local and State resources should be used as the first line of support in response to a disaster.  Intra- and interstate mutual aid can provide an additional option for timely and cost-effective resource support that can be executed prior to a Presidential disaster declaration.  Mutual aid can be particularly useful in a disaster that depletes the resources of an individual community or State, but does not require a Presidential declaration.

      2. Once State resources and capabilities are exhausted, Federal assistance may be provided to support State operational requirements and priorities.

      3. When appropriate, Federal agencies should use their own authorities and funds to provide assistance for alleviating damage, loss, hardship, and suffering.

      4. Federal assistance takes many forms — including the direct provision of goods and services, financial assistance (through insurance, grants, loans, direct payments), and technical assistance — and can come from various sources.

        1. Initial sources include internal government supplies (available surplus and excess property, agency stock previously acquired from the Disaster Relief Fund or on hand).  Agencies also may acquire needed goods and supplies outside the Federal Government from the private sector and possibly nonaffected State and local governments.

        2. Resources are acquired using a standard government procurement vehicle such as a purchase order, blanket purchase agreement, contract, or cooperative agreement.  Additionally, FEMA may use a mission assignment, which is a work order issued to another Federal agency directing completion of a specific task or provision of a service in anticipation of, or in response to, a Presidential declaration of a major disaster or emergency.  (See the Financial Management Support Annex for additional information.)

        3. An appropriate level of management oversight, protection, and accountability must be assured — from acquisition through final disposition — for all federally provided property brought to, used at, loaned by, or acquired at a disaster site.  (See the Logistics Management Support Annex for additional information.)

      5. Federal agencies may coordinate with voluntary organizations that provide a wide variety of disaster relief goods and services.  Donations often play an important role in supplying disaster victims with essential needs.  (See the Donations Management Support Annex for additional information.)

      6. Additionally, Federal agencies are encouraged to take advantage of current partnership relations with the private sector.  Businesses, both inside and outside the disaster-affected area, can supply critical resources during response operations, and assist in restoring essential services and rebuilding the economic base during recovery operations.  (As potential disaster victims, private-sector businesses also are urged to identify their risks, develop appropriate contingency plans, and take corrective actions prior to a disaster.)

      7. Many foreign governments and individuals will respond with offers of assistance.  Handling these offers could involve FEMA, the Department of State, the Department of the Treasury/U.S. Customs Service, and the Department of Justice/Immigration and Naturalization Service.  State and local governments, however, are ultimately in charge of donations, in coordination with national, State, and local voluntary organizations.

      8. In an event requiring massive resources, conflicting priorities requiring the same resources should be resolved in the field by the Emergency Response Team (ERT) Operations Section Chief or FCO.  Unresolved resource conflicts and unmet State needs will be referred to FEMA Headquarters to the Emergency Support Team (EST) and/or the Catastrophic Disaster Response Group (CDRG), if necessary, for final resolution.

      9. The Stafford Act requires that Federal agencies avoid duplicating resources and benefits whenever possible, i.e., agencies should not provide to a disaster victim the same or similar assistance that another agency is providing.  Disaster victims are responsible for repayment of Federal assistance duplicated by private insurance or other Federal programs.  (See the Recovery Function Annex for additional information on duplication of benefits.)

    3. Outreach/Information Dissemination

      1. Community relations activities will be undertaken to provide information on Federal assistance programs to affected individuals, groups, organizations, and local governments.  In addition, critical feedback from those affected will be provided for the FCO and staff.  (See the Community Relations Support Annex for additional information.)

      2. Congressional liaison will be established to provide information to the Washington, DC, and district offices of Members of Congress and to respond to questions, concerns, and problems raised by their constituents.  (See the Congressional Affairs Support Annex for additional information.)

      3. Public information will be an integral activity in disaster operations to ensure the coordinated and timely release of essential information to the public and news media about disaster-related activities.  (See the Public Affairs Support Annex for additional information.)
Updated: June 3, 1999